Gabriella S. How She Does It

Gabriella S. 42. one son. married. leadership development and organizational development trainer.



Describe your career trajectory.
I went to graduate school as a dance movement therapist. But it was so intimate and so intense. I couldn’t handle the emotional boundaries. So I was able to convince the school that group therapy was the same as same as team building. I worked on a project that was affiliated with the Harvard Negotiations Project. I spent many years on the road. I worked with guys on oil rigs and taught them about “difficult conversations.” I remember being on an oil rig in the North Sea and telling these guys, that if employees brought concerns to them, it would actually be good to ask them questions.  They sent me up to work with truckers in Chicago, where I was the only woman dealing with male dominated groups. When I was working for Goldman Sachs, I would psych myself up by going into a bathroom stall and saying to myself, “think like a sperm – you need to be direct, confident, concise.”

How do you think about building a life?
I get overwhelmed immediately. Why? Because I want my son grounded, and rightly or wrongly I’m his compass. Sometimes that is in conflict of needing time to take care of myself or being clear about my own professional focus.  Sometimes I feel as if I have lost my way. How do I act as a stay at home mom in terms of my presence and act like a mom with a nanny in terms of an ability to have a career.  I’m not sure that I am that ambitious anymore. I don’t have the energy I used to.  Fingers crossed that I can invent something that holds both.

How do you think about work life balance?
I don’t believe in the balance thing. I have found that it more calibrated, more like mid-course corrections.  It is a language of mosaics, putting a patchwork together. It is like a kaleidoscope, to be a mom and a working professional, the boundaries aren’t so clear.  If you want to be both you either have to have a boatload of flexibility or a boatload of staff.  I am an office Sherpa.   I leave the office every day with a bag with everything, in case my son gets sick, then I can work at home.

Who did you admire growing up and why?
My godmother. She was a consultant to nonprofits.   I can remember her being on deadline for something and she’d go and hang the laundry.  “We are always rushing,” she’d say. “I need thinking time”.  We forget that we need thinking time. Now, sometimes I will say to myself, “Just go hang the laundry”

Did the women’s movement have an impact on you?
My godmother had been a nun. She left the church because she didn’t feel the Vatican II didn’t push far enough on rights for women.  So that sense of equal rights was very much in my growing up. I had that sense I could do anything and part of my job was to question.  I never felt like I couldn’t do that because I was a woman.

What are some of your “special sauces” to making it all fit?
I have let go of cooking every single night. It is okay to buy a prepared chicken. Outsourcing whatever can be outsourced, letting myself off the hook.

What advice do you have for young men and women who want families and work?
Forget about planning. There is no ideal time, and no bad time to have child. You will always conflicting priorities, with or without with a spouse in life.

Is there a role for government in creating some kind of balance and integration?
In the Netherlands – you get a year of paid maternity leave and you can do second year all paid for by government.  There is a culture that children should be with their parents and this does not mean a sacrifice in their career.   In the US, there is more a role in corporate sector than in government to address this.  What is the role of dads?  There are more men on the daddy track.  What does it mean in how we develop women’s careers. I don’t think it is necessarily the traditional “male” model.

But part of the challenge is how we frame this conversation. It is usually framed for rich, and usually white, successful women and the discussion is positioned as “self-actualization”. For some women, it is about survival.

Describe the nuttiest thing you had to do to as a professional working mom.
I was still breastfeeding. My son was a picky eater: he wouldn’t eat anything that is not the temperature he thinks it should be.  He refused to drink formula or frozen breast-milk.  So when I travelled, I would pump and then Fed-Ex the breast milk home (with an cold pack.) The hotel staff knew me and so did the Fed-Ex folks.

Are there things that you take from home life to the office and vice-versa?
One very tactical thing I do is tell my team personal stories about my life when they are opportunities for teaching moments. Also, so much of what I am responsible for is for seeing patterns in organizational setting.  A lot of my job as a mom is also to look for patterns relating to my son’s development.

Photo credit: Gabriella S.

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